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Harrah's Casino deal gets Louisiana Senate approval

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Harrah's Casino deal gets Louisiana Senate approval

The Louisiana Senate voted 21-16 Wednesday (May 16) to require Harrah's New Orleans' parent company, Caesars Entertainment Corp., to invest $350 million and modernize its downtown casino complex over the next four years in order to receive a two-to-three-decade extension on its state gambling license. 

The Senate's approval, which required at least 20 votes, was necessary to keep the casino's proposed overhaul that includes a 340-room luxury hotel alive. House Bill 553 now has to go back to the House for review. It also needs Gov. John Bel Edwards' approval before it becomes law. 

"This is a $350 million investment with no subsidies from the state," said Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, advocating for the legislation as an economic deal. 

Several concerns have been raised about whether the state has good grasp on how much the New Orleans' gambling license is worth and whether Louisiana and New Orleans are getting as much from Caesars as they should. 

Under the proposal passed by the Senate, the casino would also have to pay the state at least $83.6 million annually starting in 2021. On top of that, it would give New Orleans at least  $6 million annually. 

The arrangement approved by the Senate also includes a $40 million one-time, upfront payment made by Caesars, about $10 million of which would go to New Orleans and $30 million of which would be paid to the state. If Caesars transferred its building lease to a Real Estate Investment Trust in the next few years -- as is expected -- it would have to fork over an additional $40 million, which would be divided between New Orleans and the state along those same lines.  

In exchange for this financial support, Caesars would receive a 20-year, no-bid gambling license extension, with an option to add a 10-year extension of their license at the end of that period. In total, the gambling license -- which expires in 2024 -- could be extended for another 30 years as a result of this deal. 

The Legislature is trying to wrap up its regular session business Friday, meaning a final compromise over what the state will get in exchange for renewing the casino license must be reached in short-order.

Edwards has not committed to signing the Harrah's legislation yet. He said he would have to review the arrangement -- even if it passed the full Legislature -- before he would agree to it. "I just need to know that it is a good deal," Edwards said Wednesday during his monthly radio show.

Even if the proposal gets approval from the Legislature and governor, the state gaming control board would have approve the license extension and the New Orleans City Council would also have to sign off on the casino's new luxury hotel and other upgrades before they become a reality. 

The Senate floated several proposals that contained wildly different amounts of compensation for the state and New Orleans in exchange for the gambling license. Just on Wednesday evening, the amount of money the Senate was asking Harrah's to pay annually went from $100 million to $70 million and then back up to $80 million in a period of about an hour. 

Several opponents of the legislation said the numbers were shifting so dramatically because the state had failed to do an independent analysis of what the gambling license that Harrah's currently has might be worth. They advocated for the state to put off considering the Harrah's project until next year, after a review had been done of the value of the license. 

"I think where we're at is we don't know where we're at," said Sen. Barrow Peacock, R-Bossier City, on Wednesday evening. 

Others argued that if the Legislature waited until next year to close the deal with Harrah's, it close lose out on some funding. By next year, some riverboat casinos in Louisiana could have moved on land -- under another bill lawmakers have already approved -- and Mississippi will have sports betting up and running in its casinos. Those could both decrease the value of Harrah's gambling license, according to Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner. 

"At the end of the day, I think we need to keep this instrument alive," said Sen. Gary Smith, D-Norco, urging his colleagues to vote for the legislation. 

The version of the Harrah's bill approved by the Senate is much more generous for the state than the one originally passed by the House six weeks ago. That version of the legislation only required Caesars to pay $63.6 million annually to the state and $3.6 million to New Orleans in exchange for a 30-year extension of the gambling license. 

Read more http://news.google.com/news/url?sa=t&fd=R&ct2=us&usg=AFQjCNEnWyqfAjA68nxpLbGgUiQh28IriQ&clid=c3a7d30bb8a4878e06b80cf16b898331&cid=52779901817898&ei=RP78WpjjBtPxhAHul57oBw&url=http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2018/05/louisiana_senate_harrahs.html

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